Polycom SoundStation2 EX
Polycom is the top name in conferencing hardware--and with good reason. The company's phone systems offer a nice range of features and solid sound quality. The $699 SoundStation2 EX is no exception. This feature-filled conference phone, which boasts Polycom's signature three-point, Klingon starship-like shape, lends a modern touch to even the most ordinary conference room or office. Just don't confuse this system with the more affordable ($599) SoundStation2; the EX tag indicates that this SoundStation2 is expandable, meaning you can add extra desktop microphones if needed.
Each of the main console's three legs contains a built-in microphone, providing clean voice reproduction with 360-degree coverage from up to 10 feet away. The microphones are controlled by Polycom's intelligent microphone mixing technology, which activates the microphone closest to the person doing the talking and helps reduce background noise from the other mics. A 2.5mm jack on the side of the console lets you plug in a cell phone, but you'll have to check Polycom's Web site for a list of mobile phones that work with the SoundStation2. This feature is handy if no landline is available, as it lets you use the conference system's speaker and mics through a cellular connection.
Resting atop the console is a stylish grille that masks the internal 5-inch speaker, around which sit three green/red LEDs that indicate if a call is in progress, incoming, on hold, or muted. Located just above the 25-button keypad is a 2.38-by-0.87-inch, four-line monochrome LCD, which provides ample room for displaying phone book entries, caller ID information, call length, and the current number dialed. The LCD is crisp and easy to read, and it is backlit, a necessary feature missing on the recently reviewed ClearOne Max EX conference phone. The rubberized keypad buttons are responsive and neatly organized, letting you scroll through menu selections and perform simple tasks such as muting, holding, and conferencing in multiple parties with ease.
In addition to the standard 12 alphanumeric keys (including * and #) the SoundStation2 features three soft keys for tasks such as accessing speed dial, redialing the last number called, and editing the phone book. Although the phone book holds only 25 entries, they are searchable by name, company, or speed-dial number. Other controls include up- and down-scrolling keys for navigating menu screens, volume and Mute buttons, and a conference hot key. A handy Menu key takes you to the settings, where you can adjust backlighting, language (there are seven available), ringer type, and display contrast. Here you can also set up auxiliary audio functions such as wireless microphones, recording devices, and external speakers. An Enter key selects the current entry, and an Exit key lets you cancel the current selection and navigate backward through the menus.
Along with the main console, the SoundStation2 EX includes an interface module that plugs into an AC socket and connects to the main phone line via the included 7-foot RJ-11 cable. In addition to the phone and console jacks, the module has an RCA audio-out jack for connecting to external devices such as a recorder or speakers, and there's a jack marked with a laptop icon that allows you to share the phone line with a modem, a fax machine, or a headset. Also included is a single 21-foot cable that provides communication and power from the interface module to the console. Our review unit included a pair of extension microphones (an extra that normally costs $199) with 7-foot cables, which are useful if you need to extend the range of communications for larger conference rooms. Each microphone has its own Mute button and LED indicator.
Installing the SoundStation2 was a snap, and the intuitive menu screens made it easy to add and edit phone book entries, set up bridge connections, and perform administrator tasks such as assigning passcodes and running diagnostics. We were pleased with both incoming and outgoing sound quality, and Polycom's Acoustic Clarity Technology provided clean full-duplex communications between multiple conference callers.